County Agrees to Keep ATV/UTV Routes OpenIssue Date: July 31, 2019
Marinette County authorities are hoping ATV/UTV enthusiasts and local business people will help them keep designated segments of county highways open as connecting routes for their sport by obeying the laws and staying on the roadway, and by encouraging other riders to do the same. "Education is the key," commented County Highway Commissioner Eric Burmeister.
A county ordinance adopted earlier this year allowed segments of county highways to be designated as ATV/UTV routes to connect trails provided Sheriff's Department and Highway Department officials decided the designation would not create a safety hazard. Since then, ATV/UTV club requests for connecting segments have multiplied, and most have ultimately been approved. Currently 48.6 miles of county roads are also designated as ATV/UTV routes.
Since then, ATV/UTV fatality on July 13 and increased numbers of complaints led to a tentative decision to at least temporarily close the county highway road segments to the recreational vehicles effective Thursday, July 25.
Due to overwhelming concern expressed by business people and ATV/UTV Club officials, a tentative decision to at least temporarily close the County Highway connecting routes effective Thursday, July 25 has been reversed.
The emphasis instead will be on seeking help from ATV/UTV club members, business owners and local officials to inform visitors and residents of the laws, and help educate everyone who rides the Marinette County recreational trails.
Marinette County earlier this year had approved ordinance revisions allowing use of County Highway segments as connectors for ATV/UTV recreational routes, provided safety concerns were cleared by the sheriff's department and highway department.
The ordinance also allows closure of the County Highway route segments without action by the County Board or the parent committee if the sheriff and highway commissioner feel there is a safety issue.
Burmeister said the July 13 ATV/UTV traffic fatality, added to recent significant increases in the number of complaints about traffic violations by ATV/UTV drivers and increased property damage reported on driveways and shoulders led him to meet on July 16 with Sheriff Jerry Sauve, Lt. Jason Ducaine and Recreational Officer Zach Albrecht. Burmeister said he had suggested temporarily shutting down the county highway routes as a time out to facilitate discussion on possible solutions, and the others agreed.
He notified County Administrator John LeFebvre and members of the County Board's infrastructure Committee of the decision to close the route segments effective July 25. LeFebvre subsequently sent out information on this and other county issues to by e-mail to all County Board members on Thursday July 18.
LeFebvre wrote in the e-mail: "The use of ATV/UTVs on County Highways on approved routes and on portions of County Highways not designated as ATV/UTV routes is becoming a problem. A press release will be going out stating that effective July 25 all County designated ATV/UTV routes (as opposed to trails) will be temporarily closed until further notice in a attempt to call attention to the need for everyone to work together to educate the public on this matter."
He asked Supervisors to stress the importance of abiding by the rules once the routes re-open, such as only traveling designated routes, complying with the county regulations related to the use of these routes, which include daylight use only, stay on the extreme right side of pavement, ride single file, headlights on, abide by the posted speed limit, and comply with all state regulations for ATV/UTV use.
"Safety is of utmost importance and failure to comply with all established rules and regulations creates a safety concern," LeFebvre's message concluded.
Burmeister said as soon as word got out about the pending connecting route closings the calls started coming in and from July 17 through July 19 he had "lots of good phone conversations" with local elected officials, business people and ATV/UTV club members.
On Friday, July 19 Burmeister decided to at least temporarily cancel the pending route closures and instead scheduled an informational meeting on the issue for 1 p.m. on Thursday, July 25 at the Wausaukee Village Hall.
Word got around quickly, and over 100 people attempted to jam into Wausaukee Village Hall for that meeting. Officials on hand included Burmeister, Sheriff Sauve, Lt. Ducane, Albrecht, DNR officers, County Board Chair Mark Anderson, and several County Board Supervisors who serve on the Infrastructure Committee, which oversees county Highway, Parks and Forestry Departments.
The audience included local business people, elected officials, representatives of all the ATV/UTV clubs in the county, and members of the public who simply enjoy the sport.
Sheriff Sauve noted the increase in complaints his department has received of ATV/UTV violations and declared, "anything we can do to make it safer and improve things is good for all of us."
Everyone agreed the ATV/UTV trails are good for the entire county economy, particularly in the northern areas, but there are a huge number of people who do not know the rules.
For example, while in many towns all town roads are open to ATV/UTV travel at all times, on county routes the vehicles are allowed only from dawn to dark and only from May 1 to Dec. 1.
They are subject to lower speed limits than cars, and a lady in the audience wondered why. She felt requiring them to travel more slowly than other vehicles is "an accident waiting to happen."
Burmeister noted that there is a warning on ATV/UTV vehicles that they are not intended for road use, and said some "get squirley" on blacktop.
Ducaine said according to safety surveys, if an ATV travels faster than 25 miles per hour on a hard surfaced road it is more likely go off and into a ditch.
Pat Mullarky said no manufacturer produces an ATV or UTV designed for roads, and most have low pressure tires that are likely to peel off the rim when traveling on hard surfaces at speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour. "Until they change the definition and allow higher pressure tires, you should not average any faster than 25 miles per hour," he declared.
There had been a comment that all County Forest Roads are open to ATV/UTV travel, and those present were advised this is not true unless they have been designated as part of the trail system.
Addressing the economic importance of visitors who come to ride their ATV/UTV vehicles, Greg Reinhart, Athelstane Town Treasurer, said nearly 15 years ago he and John Dobratz worked to get one mile of road open for them to access downtown businesses in Athelstane. They managed to do that, there have been no accidents on that stretch of road, and the businesses benefitted hugely, he declared.
Reinhart said they had then tried for another mile of county road, and were referred to the Highway Safety Committee, where their request was stalled until Rick Rickaby came on as Highway Commissioner and Mark Anderson came on as County Board chair. "Things have changed a lot in 10 years, and I'm happy about that," he declared.
County supervisor John Guarisco, who for many years chaired Crivitz Recreation Association, said some of the property owners on roads designated as ATV/UTV routes are not happy. He said most people obey the laws, but some do not, and police cannot be anywhere. "We've got to police ourselves or we're going to lose that (the highway use)," he said. He urged those who see someone violating to report them and get the word out and urge fellow riders to practice respect for the law and respect for property owners.
Supervisor Gilbert Engel, a member of the Infrastructure Committee that oversees the Highway Department, said the people they need to be concerned about are those who would not be at the meeting, "the hot rodders" who tear up driveways and road shoulders. "It seems to me that if the clubs want to keep the extent of connectivity that they now have, they are going to have to do some policing of their own."
Patti Mullarkey, of Dungood Snowmobile Alliance, said the Wisconsin ATV Association has a Trail Ambassador program. Members receive training, then are issued special identifying vests.They have no enforcement powers, but people who see the vests don't know that. If they see people violating, they talk to them. She said currently as clubs, "all we can do is ride around and tell people to not do that any more. She said the official ATV Ambassadors work with the DNR and local recreational officers. She noted the ATV Association was holding a day-long meeting on Saturday, July 27 in the Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar and educational issues will most likely come up.
Another speaker suggested TV channels and radio stations as a public service might post announcements that violations will cause loss of trail privileges. She felt this would be particularly effective on downstate stations, in the areas that visitors come from.
The owner of Rapids Resort said he has a problem telling people where they can go on their ATVs because the maps are not clear, and people do not know if they are on a town road that says open, or on a county road segment that is closed after dark.
Burmeister said he will definitely look into the possibility of maps that are easier to read.
Crivitz businessman Mike Dama urged the County to do whatever needs to be done to keep the ATV/UTV trails and routes open. "If you don't get on board with this you will lose tax dollars." He also owns businesses in Coleman and Lakewood, and said particularly in Lakewood, which has a thriving ATV/UTV economy, many people bought homes and cottages just because of the ease of getting on to the trail system. He agreed public safety is important, but repeated that economic development is also important.
"Marinette County is late getting on board (with ATV/UTV trails) Oconto County has done an excellent job for years, and it shows!" Dama declared.
Sauve agreed it is hard to know which parts of county roads are open to the ATV/UTV vehicles and "it takes a pretty astute officer to know the difference."
Everyone agreed there is a lack of signage, and a lack of information for everyone.
Dan Banaszak, Town of Lake chair, said speed, and extreme lighting on some of the vehicles cause problems, and most of the calls he gets are about bright lights.
Mike Frievalt, recently retired Crivitz Police Chief, said for $20 a year he can get a map from a company in Michigan that gives direction by GPS.
Frievalt declared there is no uniformity of rules, and people coming here break the rules because they do not know what the rules are.
There was a complaint that visitors cannot get to any of the county's waterfalls by ATV, nor can they go on any of the WPS boat landings on the Peshtigo River Flowage. Another said they have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get winter access to the waterfalls. County officials refuse, saying they are too noisy, the speaker said.
Pete Villas Head of the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department, was not present, but Burmeister and Anderson said they will get the request to him.
Another speaker said word is out on the web - wrongly - that Marinette County has opened all its roads to ATV/UTV vehicles. However, there are only 1,800 miles of funded ATV/UTV trails in the entire state, and Marinette County has over 600 of them.
There was more talk about laws and common sense. Burmeister said the previous week in Middle Inlet he had seen a man on a UTV holding a small child with no helmet between his legs. That child was holding another child. "You can't fix stupid, you can only change its direction," he declared.
"I think we're seeing growing pains here," Burmeister added, "We're not the only area with problems, but we're collecting information on what we have to do solve them."
Asked what can be done to help with enforcement, Ducaine said it is okay to get a registration number and report it to the recreation deputy. He probably will not be able to issue a ticket unless the caller is willing to go to court and testify, "but he will get to know who the players are and who to watch."
Signage was seen as another huge problem, and Burmeister said last winter lots of signs got moved.
Asked why the vehicles cannot be on highways in winter, Anderson explained with snow banks on either side of the road, you have no place to go if a car is coming at you, and ATVs are not allowed to travel in the ditch area.
Guarisco felt one thing people want most is to get onto the trails without trailering their machines, "and if we can make trails connect with each other, that's a great thing!"
Supervisor Al Mans, chair of the Infrastructure Committee, said before approving a county highway segment as a route they get input from the Sheriff's department on safety issues, "and if they say "no,' the request never gets passed along."
Burmeister said he would attend the ATV Association meeting on Saturday, and declared, "I'll take any suggestions I can get."
Ducaine noted when law enforcement is out, the word gets out, and said they try for high visibility, not to write a lot of tickets.
Several speakers urged business owners to not be afraid to warn people to obey the laws, and to caution if they do not use their privileges properly everyone will lose them. Particularly bar owners should note that darkness is deadline time for the ATV/UTVs on county roads, so if they need to take that route, they should get home before sunset and come back with a car.
One of the most common comments was that everyone wants people to follow the rules, but nothing is printed to inform them what the rules are.
There also was agreement that the cost of signs is huge, and no one gets funding for signs on county routes as opposed to those for the funded trail system. Burmeister said last year the county paid $40,000 just for signs.
Anderson suggested anyone willing to get involved in the educational efforts should sign up. Burmeister later said he doesn't want this to be a government group, but a club type group without governmental interference.
The meeting ended with an assumed agreement that the routes on county highways will remain open, at least for now, and that the clubs and others who enjoy the sport will spread some information and do some self-policing,
In a conversation after the meeting Burmeister said he and Albrecht had both attended Saturday's meeting of the ATV Association at Dunbar from 8 a.m. until late in the afternoon. Representatives from many surrounding counties, Wisconsin ATV Association and DNR officers were there, along with a few elected officials. "We had good discussion, focused on some of the complaints, growing pains we're seeing statewide. The problems are not unique to Marinette County. The big solution is going to be education," Burmeister repeated.
As to comments about forming an ad hoc committee through Marinette County, Burmeister said he is reluctant to form a governmental committee."My concern is, if we let government fix it, sometimes government fixes it, but not the way the community wanted it to be fixed." He sort of hopes the clubs will form their own committee.
He said to help inform the public he has ordered some speed limit signs for ATVs, and is hoping to get them up this year.
He also will be creating and posting other informational signs, basic rules, daylight hours only May 1 through Dec. 1, and is hoping to set up a meeting with the tourism person to get some flyers out.
He said a major problem is there is no similarity or uniformity between county and local ordinances or between municipalities, "and I'm not sure how we fix that... Hopefully at a WTA meeting in the near future I can bring up my concern," He said the county cannot dictate what local governments do, "...but one of my recommendations would be to update so there are similar rules as to how ATVs work on their roads."
He said it has been a good week so far. No complaints about ATVs. He said the county ordinance and signing plans were created before he became highway commissioner, "and now I have to not reinvent the wheel, but make it better."
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